Friday, June 22, 2018

Gerald Manning: Louisiana: False confession case: Yet another abomination from Louisiana's criminal justice system: Even the victim's family stood by him all these 40 years..." "We stood by him and we don’t even know him," said Rhondalyn Harris, who is the youngest daughter of Vonda Harris, the murder and rape victim. "We prayed, we cried, because who wants someone to be locked up for your parent’s murder who didn’t do it?" Rhondalyn Harris said she and her sister — who were both younger than 6 years old when their mother was killed — are frustrated how Manning eventually got his freedom because he was not fully exonerated, as they believe he should have been."...". "Nearly six months after Ms. Harris’ death, Gerald Manning, an intellectually impaired high school student, just three months past his eighteenth birthday, was brought into the Monroe police station on an unrelated matter," Wenstrom wrote in Manning's application for post-conviction relief. There, Manning was interrogated for more than 28 hours and eventually gave "numerous, varied, and conflicting confessions to the murder." Wenstrom said that while looking into the case decades later, she found a box stored by the clerk of court containing clothing stripped from Vonda Harris's body and a weapon used to kill her, and that evidence was tested for DNA. "The results confirm what Ms. Harris’ entire family has always believed — that Gerald Manning was not involved in her murder," Wenstrom wrote in the application."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This Blog is interested in false confessions because of the disturbing number of exonerations in the USA, Canada and multiple other jurisdictions throughout the world, where, in the absence of incriminating forensic evidence the conviction is based on self-incrimination – and because of the growing body of  scientific research showing how vulnerable suspects   are to widely used interrogation methods  such as  the notorious ‘Reid Technique.’

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.


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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Wenstrom said Manning was particularly vulnerable when questioned by police, because he was a juvenile, had an intellectual disability and was not accompanied by a parent or lawyer. She said Manning's response to the situation — giving a false confession — was not exceptional given the circumstances. "All those things that bring kids like Gerald to falsely confess are actually biological, their brains aren't fully developed," said Renee Slajda, the spokeswoman for the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "They are particularly susceptible to peer pressure but also authorities like police. He actually just wanted to go home, he couldn’t understand the consequences of confessing."

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GIST: For more than four decades in prison, Gerald Manning maintained his innocence — serving time for a brutal murder and rape for which he was convicted as a juvenile — until, only recently, DNA evidence bolstered his chance at long-awaited affirmation. During all those years, the family of the woman murdered and raped in 1977 in Monroe fought on the same side as Manning, never believing he was the perpetrator of the crime. So when Manning, now 59, walked free Tuesday evening through the gates of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, there were two families who could finally feel some relief, some justice. "We stood by him and we don’t even know him," said Rhondalyn Harris, who is the youngest daughter of Vonda Harris, the murder and rape victim. "We prayed, we cried, because who wants someone to be locked up for your parent’s murder who didn’t do it?" Rhondalyn Harris said she and her sister — who were both younger than 6 years old when their mother was killed — are frustrated how Manning eventually got his freedom because he was not fully exonerated, as they believe he should have been. On Monday, Manning entered a plea deal offered by Ouachita District Attorney Robert Tew, vacating the 1978 conviction of second-degree murder and attempted aggravated rape; in return, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges: receiving stolen goods over $500, theft of goods over $500 and aggravated battery. He was re-sentenced for those crimes, but received credit for his 41 years in prison, making him eligible for immediate release. "I’m happy that he’s out but I still feel like he was given a raw deal," said Penny Harris Brothers, the eldest daughter of Vonda Harris. "If he’s innocent, he’s innocent. … They could have corrected their wrong." Ten years ago, Manning's lawyer, Kristin Wenstrom, began looking into his case after former Ouachita District Attorney Jerry Jones expressed concern about it. Wenstrom was then an attorney with Innocence Project New Orleans, a nonprofit that works to correct wrongful convictions. Wenstrom now works as an attorney for the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "It’s bittersweet because it was a long fight," Wenstrom said Tuesday. "Gerald deserves to be exonerated, but again I’m happy for him and I’m happy for his family that this wrongful incarceration has been brought to an end, and he’ll be able to be with his family and make a life for himself outside of prison.” Wenstrom said getting a full exoneration could have taken even more years going through the court system, but Manning decided coming home as soon as possible was more important, especially considering the age of his elderly mother. A 1977 murder:   In February 1977, Vonda Harris was found dead, completely naked behind a vacant house in Monroe, according to court filings of the case. She was stabbed three times, but the coroner then ruled she died of blunt force to her head, and also determined she had been raped. Many of the suspects brought in for questioning by police soon after the crime passed a lie-detector-like test, and were soon after ruled out as suspects, the filings show. "Nearly six months after Ms. Harris’ death, Gerald Manning, an intellectually impaired high school student, just three months past his eighteenth birthday, was brought into the Monroe police station on an unrelated matter," Wenstrom wrote in Manning's application for post-conviction relief. There, Manning was interrogated for more than 28 hours and eventually gave "numerous, varied, and conflicting confessions to the murder." Wenstrom said that while looking into the case decades later, she found a box stored by the clerk of court containing clothing stripped from Vonda Harris's body and a weapon used to kill her, and that evidence was tested for DNA. "The results confirm what Ms. Harris’ entire family has always believed — that Gerald Manning was not involved in her murder," Wenstrom wrote in the application. "These results are clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Manning is factually innocent." Wenstrom said Manning was particularly vulnerable when questioned by police, because he was a juvenile, had an intellectual disability and was not accompanied by a parent or lawyer. She said Manning's response to the situation — giving a false confession — was not exceptional given the circumstances. "All those things that bring kids like Gerald to falsely confess are actually biological, their brains aren't fully developed," said Renee Slajda, the spokeswoman for the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights. "They are particularly susceptible to peer pressure but also authorities like police. He actually just wanted to go home, he couldn’t understand the consequences of confessing." The Ouachita District Attorney's Office released a statement Monday about Manning's case; however, they did not mention the DNA evidence that was key in moving his case forward or acknowledge that the initial convictions were incorrect. The statement focuses on the fact that Manning was 17 when he was convicted in Harris' murder, and that recent state laws and Supreme Court cases have changed how juveniles should be sentenced. "Based upon the current sentencing and parole laws that are applicable to Manning and the request of the Harris family, the District Attorney has consented, and Gerald Manning has pled guilty and been resentenced. Manning is now eligible for release," the statement says. The Harris family also hope the District Attorney's Office will re-open the case and find the person who did murder their mother. Tew could not be reached for additional comment Tuesday. 'It's hard to call this justice': Because Manning did take certain guilty pleas Monday, Slajda said, he will not be eligible for any post-conviction financial compensation from the state, only available when a conviction is completely overturned. "It makes you angry at the state, because it was just brushed under the rug," said Rhondalyn Harris. "You took an innocent kid and you took him off the street and you took the life from him — they need to pay him." However, Slajda said she hopes the community will fill in the gaps. She said that has already started, as he will spend his first few weeks out of prison supported by the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that helps long-term prisoners, especially juvenile lifers, transition to free society, and then she's hopeful fundraisers set up by the Louisiana Center for Children's Rights and Innocence Project New Orleans can fill in some gaps, though she knows it will be difficult. “It’s hard to call this justice, it’s hard to call this a victory, because clearly Gerald and his family will never get these 40 years back," Slajda said. "Obviously, though, we are so happy they will be reunited. … We feel really good knowing he’s going back to a community that supports him and has fought for him for so long.”"

The entire story can be read at: 
http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_e83b485e-7409-11e8-8470-93772c74f088.html

 PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

Radley Balko: (Washington Post); He posts about two FBI officials who say the state of forensics is fine - and then shows with ample evidence (point by point) that they are wrong. (Another remarkable analysis of the intersections of forensic science, politics and ideology published by The Washington Post, in Balko's column 'The Watch.' HL. (Note the references to Pamela Colloff's on going Pro-Publica/New York Times series on the unreliability of blood-splatter analysis as illustrated by her investigation of the Joe Bryan (Texas) case.)


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Last August, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced a new forensics review and monitoring process at DOJ. He also revealed that the new system would be overseen by a man named Ted Hunt. Ted Hunt is not a scientist. He is a longtime prosecutor. His supporters point out that he was part of the very Forensic Science Commission that Obama empaneled and that reformers lament was allowed to expire. But Hunt was often a voice of dissent on the commission."

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POST: "Two FBI officials say the state of forensics is fine. Here’s why they’re wrong," by Radley Balko, published on his Blog 'The Watch' by The Washington Post, on June 6, 2018. (Radley Balko writes and edits The Watch, a reported blog covering civil liberties and the criminal-justice system. Previously, he was an investigative reporter for the Huffington Post and a writer and editor for Reason magazine. His most recent book is "The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist: A True Story of Injustice in the American South.")

GIST: "Last October, the Fordham University Law School hosted a symposium on forensics and how they’re used in the courtyard. Presenters then wrote up their presentations for publication in the March 2018 Fordham Law Review. I want to address an essay by Alice R. Isenberg and Cary T. Oien, titled “Scientific Excellence in the Forensic Science Community.” Isenberg is the deputy assistant director of the Laboratory Division at the FBI. Oien is a senior forensic scientist at the FBI. As you might imagine, I have some issues with their essay. Generally, the piece makes the case that the alarm about forensics is much ado about very little. It’s also a defense of how forensics is used by the federal government, and by the FBI specifically. So let’s jump right in: 

The practice of forensic science has existed for centuries. Each year, hundreds of thousands of cases are closed, suspects cleared, and offenders convicted through routine, accurate, and reliable forensic testing. Forensic testing includes chemical analysis to determine the nature of seized drugs; examinations performed on physical materials such as fibers, glass, and spent bullet casings; and examination of biological materials such as DNA. Tests performed for each of these examinations, regardless of the materials examined, are strictly prescribed by laboratory policies, supported by peer-reviewed research, and lead to accurate and reliable results. 

 The first fingerprint case in the United States was in 1911. Some early forebears of what we call “forensics” today were used in some European courts going back to the 19th century, but most fields of modern forensics were developed and first used in the Progressive Era. So while the U.S. court system has been around for centuries (just long enough to use the plural), forensics as we know it today is about 100 years old. As for “peer-reviewed research,” it depends on how you define the term. Some forensics journals claim to be peer-reviewed. But that review is generally done by other forensic specialists. The truth is, most fields of forensics weren’t subjected to rigorous scientific testing until the last 10 to 15 years. That testing has shown that, in many fields, expert witnesses have been giving testimony that is either completely unsupported by science or they’ve been significantly exaggerating the significance of their findings. “Accurate and reliable results?” Well, that depends. The most problematic fields of forensics are those known as the pattern matching fields. This includes any specialty that requires an analyst to look at one sample and “match” it to another. Think hair and carpet-fiber analysis, bite-mark analysis, shoe-print and tire-tread analysis, blood-spatter analysis and fingerprint matching. The degree to which these fields are problematic vary quite a bit (bite-mark matching is probably on the least reliable end of the spectrum, with fingerprint matching at the other end), but all at their core are subjective. (Fingerprint matching breaks down the moment you start looking at partial prints.) That means they cannot calculate a margin for error. It means analysts will often disagree about conclusions, sometimes in ways that directly contradict one another. And by definition, any method of analysis that results in experts coming to contradictory conclusions about the same piece of evidence can’t possibly be accurate (one of them is obviously wrong) or reliable. This means that these fields aren’t science. That doesn’t mean they have no evidentiary value at all. But it does mean that analysts need to be extremely careful about how they present this sort of evidence to juries. The language they use needs to be standardized and then explained to juries, so that the amount of emphasis the jury puts on it is based on the evidence’s actual significance and not other factors, such as the charisma or persuasiveness of the analyst. This hasn’t been happening.






A casual reader of recent media reports might be led to believe that forensic science lacks any scientific credibility. However, this narrative is completely inaccurate and at odds with the scientific excellence that exists throughout the forensic science community. Forensic disciplines are grounded in diverse sciences such as chemistry, biology, and physics, and every forensic discipline practiced in an accredited forensic laboratory must demonstrate that it is reliable, accurate, and fit for its intended use.
There are a lot of subjective and undefined terms in this paragraph. To date, a number of commissions, panels and other bodies staffed with actual scientists have reviewed some of the most common fields of forensics and found them lacking in scientific merit. These include the National Academy of Sciences, the Texas Forensic Science Commission, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Commission on Forensic Science. To say that several forensic disciplines are “grounded in diverse sciences” tells us little about whether the actual methods of analysis that the practitioners use to reach their conclusions are scientifically sound and reliable. One important test of scientific merit, for example, is repeatability. If a method of forensic analysis is scientifically reliable, two trained analysts using the same experiment with the same evidence should reliably get the same result. In a scientifically proven field such as DNA testing, two trained scientists testing the same blood, hair, semen, skin cells or other biological material will reliably produce the same DNA profile. The same can’t always be said of blood-spatter analysts, tool-mark analysts or bite-mark analysts.  One could say, for example, that blood-spatter analysis is “grounded in” physics — the physics of what a liquid such as blood does as it is forced from the body, travels through the air and strikes a wall or floor. But simply referencing some bit of scientific knowledge doesn’t mean that the end product of your analysis will be scientifically reliable. Astrologers, for example, utilize some principles and knowledge from astronomy, which is a legitimate field of science. This doesn’t mean that astrologers’ predictions are “grounded in science.” Just last week, the New York Times ran an editorial on this, based on a two-part investigation into a conviction based on blood-spatter evidence, written by Pamela Colloff.
Joe Bryan was convicted on the word of a detective named Robert Thorman, who testified before the jury as an expert in what is known as bloodstain-pattern analysis . . . People like Detective Thorman got certified as bloodstain-pattern analysts after taking a weeklong course that now costs as little as a few hundred dollars.
Pamela Colloff, who wrote the articles on the Times Magazine/ProPublica investigation of Joe Bryan’s case, enrolled in one of these courses, where the instructor told her, “We’re not really going to focus on the math and physics; it just kind of bogs things down.” Ms. Colloff passed the final exam, as did everyone in the class.
Thanks in part to such dubious standards, the interpretation of bloodstain evidence has become notoriously ambiguous. The same patterns can, like a Rorschach test, be read in very different ways; some trials feature two bloodstain “experts,” one on each side, who testify to opposite conclusions. A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that “the opinions of bloodstain-pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific,” and, “The uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous.”
And yet judges in many states have accepted these experts’ testimony as scientifically valid — not because of any concrete evidence that it is, but because other courts have accepted it before.
This of course is how courts routinely adjudicate challenges to the scientific validity of expert testimony. They look to see what other courts have done. This means that once a scientifically dubious field enters the criminal justice system, it becomes really difficult to reverse the process.
Let’s get back to Isenberg and Oien.
Accreditation and quality assurance systems assure the public that accredited organizations are competent and their results can be relied upon. Many groups — such as the National Commission on Forensic Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and the Department of Justice (DOJ)— recognize that accreditation is critically important. In fact, in December 2015, the Attorney General directed that all DOJ forensic laboratories must obtain or maintain accreditation.
About that 2015 directive. It has a pretty big loophole. It only states that federal prosecutors use accredited crime labs “when practicable.” As Frontline reported at the time, if finding an accredited lab would result in too much of a delay or too great an expense, federal prosecutors can continue to use unaccredited labs.
Accreditation is an external assessment of a laboratory’s technical competence to perform specific types of testing. Accreditation demonstrates that a laboratory is performing its work correctly and consistent with appropriate standards. To maintain this recognition, a laboratory is periodically reevaluated to ensure its ongoing compliance with accreditation requirements. Laboratory accreditation is internationally regarded as a reliable indicator of technical competence, and it provides credibility and public confidence in laboratory operations. An accredited laboratory’s quality assurance system must include written standard operating procedures, proficiency testing, training programs, processes for technical review of reports, testimony monitoring, and many other requirements.
All else being equal, some accreditation is certainly better than no accreditation. But accreditation is merely a baseline. It doesn’t ensure competency. It doesn’t ensure that a crime lab is operating within the parameters of sound science. In the end, an accreditation is only as valuable as the rigor, reputation and thoroughness of the accrediting organization. And as I’ll get to in a moment, the history of these groups leaves a lot to be desired. Accrediting bodies also typically exist within the existing culture of forensics. Typically, when we talk about accreditation, we aren’t talking about outside scientists who are assessing the scientific credibility and rigor of a crime lab and its analysts. These accrediting organizations usually begin their evaluations of crime labs from the perspective that even the more subjective and controversial fields of forensics, when applied according to the prevailing standards of those fields, are legitimate and reliable. In other words, accrediting organizations evaluate subjective fields such as blood-spatter, shoe-print, or hair-fiber analysis on their own respective terms. If you’re meeting the minimum standards put forth by the blood-spatter, shoe-print, or hair-fiber analysis community, you’re probably going to be accredited. Accreditation does not mean that these fields as a whole are scientific, credible or reliable.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 88 percent of the 409 publicly-funded forensic crime labs in the United States are accredited. Unaccredited labs are often very small — less than ten people — and offer services in a limited number of disciplines. In addition to forensic laboratories, laboratories performing other types of tests are accredited according to the same international standard. This includes environmental labs checking for levels of lead in groundwater, chemistry labs preparing chemicals for consumer use, or food labs ensuring the safety of our food supply.
This is a strange comparison. The fact that a crime lab is subjected to similar standards as labs that perform other types of tests says nothing about the validity of the crime lab’s analysis.
But let’s look at that 88 percent figure. It seems impressive. But it seems impressive only until you start to look at the seemingly endless parade of crime lab scandals we’ve seen over the past 15 to 20 years, and you begin to notice how many of those labs . . . were already accredited.
Here’s a quick list of such cases, which isn’t remotely comprehensive:
  • Last October, Massachusetts officials fired the head of the Office of Alcohol Testing within the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory after discovering that analysts at the lab routinely withheld exculpatory information about blood-alcohol tests from defense attorneys. The revelation could affect thousands of drunk-driving tests dating back to 2011. On its website, the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory describes itself as “fully accredited.”
  • In 2016, police officials in Austin shut down the DNA division of the city’s police-run crime lab indefinitely after discovering that analysts were using analytical tools that were badly outdated. The lab also had problems with cross-contamination. Despite multiple red flags about the lab dating back to 2008, the lab was repeatedly accredited by the appropriate bodies within the field of forensics. It took an inspection by the Texas Forensic Science Commission — an oversight body from outside the forensics world — to finally bring these problems to light.
  • In 2013, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office underwent a review of 800 rape cases after investigators found 26 instances in which DNA evidence was mishandled or overlooked by an analyst at the lab. The cases spanned 2001 to 2011. In fact, the same year that the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office announced this review, it also boasted in a news release that its DNA lab received “perfect scores” from an international accrediting organization.
  • In their various incarnations, the crime labs in Houston have been the scene of multiple scandals, including 2014 revelations that an analyst had tampered with evidence; a 2005 report finding incompetence, cheating on proficiency tests, and even possible perjury and faking of test results; and the shuttering of the fingerprint lab in 2009 after an audit showed exceptionally high error rates. (This is not at all a comprehensive list of the crime lab problems in Houston.) Through all of this, the Harris County and Houston labs have boasted of accreditation from both national and international forensic organizations. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, for example, accredited the Houston PD lab in 2006. Incredibly, when a 2008 investigation into cheating on proficiency tests led to the closing of the lab’s DNA testing unit, the resignation of the head of that unit and the suspension of two other analysts, the head of the organization that accredited the lab said his group had no plans to revoke the lab’s accreditation.
  • A 2013 audit of the crime lab in St. Paul, Minn., found widespread ineptitude, including “sloppy documentation, dirty equipment, faulty techniques and ignorance of basic scientific procedures.” The report recommended that the lab cease operations until it could be overhauled from the ground up. Yet in its 2007, 2008, 2009 and even 2012 annual reports, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety touted the St. Paul crime lab’s accreditation by the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. In 2009, three years before the scandal broke, crime lab director Frank Dolejsi boasted that the accreditation “is an affirmation of the quality of all aspects of the [crime lab’s] forensic science services.” After the audit, state officials vowed to win back public trust by promising that the St. Paul crime lab would — you guessed it — get itself accredited.
  • In 2014, a crime lab analyst in Florida was arrested for stealing seized drugs and tampering with evidence, possibly tainting up to 2,600 cases from at least 80 different law enforcement agencies. His lab was accredited.
  • In 2012, an audit of the North Carolina crime lab done after an exoneration found that analysts in the serology unit had been withholding exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys for at least 16 years. The audit found that analysts routinely overstated their findings and that training manuals were adamantly pro-prosecution, to the point of referring to defense experts as “whores.” The manuals were likely pro-prosecution because the analysts themselves reported to prosecutors, who wrote their year-end reviews and determined raises and promotions. The North Carolina lab had been accredited since 1988.
These are just a few examples. In 2013, the ABA Journal reviewed dozens of crime lab scandals across the country. The report found a lot of problems in both accredited and non-accredited labs. Of course, there’s Isenberg and Oien’s own FBI crime lab, which is arguably the most accredited and respected crime lab in the world. But the FBI lab, too, has been no stranger to scandal. Just a few years ago, the agency admitted that it’s hair-fiber analysts had overstated their findings nearly every time they testified. This occurred over a period spanning decades and implicated thousands of convictions. Those analysts then trained analysts at state and local labs, potentially corrupting untold thousands of more cases. And that’s just one scandal of several. There’s the Brandon Mayfield debacle. There’s the FBI’s long-held and since disproved claim about “compositional bullet lead analysis,” which also affected thousands of criminal cases. That’s quite a record from one of the most respected labs in the world. Back to Isenberg and Oien.
Forensic examiners must complete extensive training to be qualified to perform casework in accredited laboratories. Training programs can be one to two years, or longer, and require examiners to perform analyses on samples with a known correct answer. The examiner must also demonstrate a thorough understanding of the science behind the method employed and an understanding of lab policies, procedures, legal rules, evidence handling, etc. The examiner must undergo oral examinations, mock trials, and competency tests for which the correct answer is known. In addition, all examiners must demonstrate competency to apply the processes accurately and reliably before they are assigned actual cases. Once qualified to conduct casework in an accredited laboratory, every examiner undergoes continual competency monitoring through proficiency tests administered at least once per year.
This is difficult to square with the examples above, or with the other scandals at accredited labs far too numerous to list in their entirety. The most common credentialing agency for crime labs is the aforementioned American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD). Isenberg and Oien even cite this organization’s website in laying out the allegedly rigorous process to becoming an accredited forensic examiner. But while ASCLD may claim that these are the criteria crime labs need to meet to earn and keep their credentials, those requirements don’t appear to be all that tightly enforced. Labs that don’t meet them still get accredited. And previously accredited labs that don’t meet them don’t seem to lose their status.
If the accreditation process is so rigorous and demanding, critics wonder, then why have so few labs been sanctioned? ASCLD/LAB’s website lists the status of all accredited labs and shows that no lab’s accreditation is currently revoked or suspended; there are also no labs on probation. And [ASCLD Executive Director Ralph] Keaton says he can count on one hand the number of labs whose accreditation has ever been revoked or suspended, though he says it would probably take two hands to count the number of labs that have ever been placed on probation.
Keaton says that has a lot to do with the overall quality of accredited labs. But critics say it has more to do with the chummy nature of the inspection process, which creates a tendency to “go along to get along” among inspectors, and the agency’s own interest in keeping labs accredited. . . .
New York City criminal defense lawyer Marvin Schechter, a member of the committee that produced the NAS report, is one of ASCLD/LAB’s biggest critics. Schechter, also a member of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, wrote a lengthy memo to his fellow commissioners in 2011 recommending that they look for a new accreditor. He characterized ASCLD/LAB as an organization more interested in protecting its members’ images than in promoting accountability.
“In fact, ASCLD/LAB could more properly be described as a product service organization,” Schechter wrote, “which sells for a fee a ‘seal of approval’ covering diverse laboratory systems, which laboratories can utilize to bolster their credibility through in-court testimony by technicians, plus ancillary services such as protection from outside inquiry, shielding of internal activities and, where necessary, especially in the event of public condemnation, a spokesperson to buffer the laboratory from media inquiry.”
The links to the pages listing revoked/suspended labs and labs on probation now go to a site called the ANSI-ANQ National Accreditation Board, which apparently merged with ASLD’s accrediting arm. But neither website appears to lists any crime labs on probation, currently in suspension, or whose accreditation has been revoked. If even egregious incompetence and misconduct rarely if ever results in a revocation or suspension, what does accreditation really mean?
More from Isenberg and Oien: 
Testimony monitoring is also a requirement for accredited laboratories. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Laboratory requires that examiners request a transcript for each testimony provided. FBI examiners also must follow approved standards for scientific testimony and reports, which document the acceptable range of conclusions expressed in both laboratory reports and testimony. The DOJ is developing similar documents called Uniform Language for Testimony and Reports, as well as a testimony-monitoring framework, which will apply to all DOJ laboratories. The purpose of these testimony-monitoring activities is to prevent examiner testimony from exceeding scientific limitations.
This sounds great at first. But it’s all dependent on the answers to several important questions. First, who determines the “acceptable range of conclusions” for lab reports and testimony? Is it someone who already practices in that particular field? What does “approved standards for scientific testimony” mean? Who is setting those standards? Who is approving them? Who decides if an analyst has “exceeded scientific limitations?” The entire point of the National Commission on Forensic Science empaneled by President Barack Obama was to bring in actual scientists to make such determinations. Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowed that commission’s charter to expire shortly after taking office. (It’s worth noting that while Obama deserves credit for setting up the commission, his record in this area was mixed at best.) Last August, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced a new forensics review and monitoring process at DOJ. He also revealed that the new system would be overseen by a man named Ted Hunt. Ted Hunt is not a scientist. He is a longtime prosecutor. His supporters point out that he was part of the very Forensic Science Commission that Obama empaneled and that reformers lament was allowed to expire. But Hunt was often a voice of dissent on the commission. Here’s a look at Hunt’s record on the commission from Mother Jones:
In March 2016, the commission recommended that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch direct forensic experts and attorneys working on behalf of the Justice Department to stop using the phrase “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty.” The phrase is commonly used on witness stands and in lab reports and gives juries and judges a sense of factuality, but it is subjective and lacks any agreed-upon meaning across the sciences. Hunt was one of two commission members who opposed the recommendation, which Lynch adopted last September.
Lynch also adopted a recommendation by the commission requiring forensic testing labs that work with the department and its attorneys to publicize their internal procedures, from equipment maintenance to estimations of uncertainty, in order to foster transparency, trust, and best practices in the industry. Hunt was one of four commissioners who opposed it.
Last September, when the commission released a document supporting stricter accreditation standards for forensic labs, Hunt voted against it. And when the commission recommended that the National Institute of Standards and Technology conduct scientific evaluations of the “technical merit of test methods and practices used in forensic science disciplines,” he opposed that, too. At its final meeting, when members had already been informed that the group would be coming to an end, several commissioners pushed for a resolution encouraging experts to use more quantitative language to convey the accuracy of forensic testimony. The resolution narrowly failed, with Hunt among the nays.
So DOJ did away with a transparent, external commission mostly populated and led by scientists, and replaced it with an internal commission led by a career prosecutor who has opposed efforts to increase transparency, increase accountability, increase scientific accuracy and strengthen the requirements for accreditation. This is likely why Hunt’s appointment was hailed by ASCLD and forensics groups such as the International Association for Identification and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and why the new DOJ venture has been viewed with skepticism by groups such as the Innocence Project. In the remainder of their essay, Isenberg and Oien take aim at the report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) issued in the waning months of the Obama administration. That report was perhaps the most strident and explicitly critical report on forensics to date. The authors of and researchers for the report were scientists, not forensics practitioners or lawyers (though a panel of judges and attorneys did contribute in an advisory role).
The essay’s discussion of the PCAST report is a bit technical to delve into here with too much detail, but in general, the PCAST authors posited that because most pattern-matching fields of forensics are so subjective — an analyst basically just “eyeballs” two samples and comes up with language to describe how similar or different they are — the only way to determine if these fields are reliable is what’s known as a “black box” test. We can’t evaluate a particular analyst’s process for determining matches because so much of it is done in his or her head. Instead, we have to look at results. That means administering competency tests. Give analysts a sample from a case in which the culprit is known, give them samples from multiple suspects, and record who gets it right and who doesn’t. As you might guess, many forensic analysts and the professional groups they belong to are reluctant to submit to such tests. Most of these fields have already been accepted by the courts. They have little to gain, and a lot to lose. In their essay, Isenberg and Oien dispute the notion that black-box tests are the only real way to measure the reliability of a given field. They argue that relying too much on such tests “ignores much peer-reviewed research, overlooks critical aspects of many studies, and fails to acknowledge the empirical value of these studies.” But these studies are, again, typically reviewed only by other practitioners from the same field, using the same procedures and standards within the field. Here again, you’re evaluating the legitimacy of an entire field based on criteria that already accepts that field’s legitimacy. In conclusion, Isenberg and Oien write:
Science continuously evolves and is built upon observation, study, and experience that spans hundreds of years. The justice system would not be well served by the exclusion of reliable forensic methods and techniques that provide valuable information to a wide range of stakeholders.
Of course, whether some of these fields are reliable is precisely what’s in dispute. But at issue here is how we evaluate new or questionable expertise for use in the courtroom. What do we do going forward? I think the answer is that we only allow this sort of analysis and expertise after it has been subjected to the rigors of scientific inquiry. Before we let a new drug hit the market, we require its manufacturer to prove that the drug is safe and effective. Those standards are enforced by scientists with expertise in pharmaceuticals. When a drug slips through and causes harm, we pull it from the market. It isn’t a perfect system, and there are interesting debates at its parameters. But in general, we test new technology before we put it to everyday use. Contrast this to forensics. The decision whether to allow a new field of forensics into court is made by a judge, not a scientist, or even a fellow practitioner. Judges typically look for guidance on these questions not from scientists, but from other judges. The briefs in such challenges are written by lawyers. Judges then tend to err on the side of letting evidence in, on the assumption that our adversarial system will sort it out. (In his speech last year, Rosenstein touted this flaw as a feature.) Even once we discover that a field is scientifically suspect, it’s difficult to get the courts to even acknowledge it, much less stop it from being used again, much less correct the cases that may have already been tainted.
Like the other defenders of these fields, Isenberg and Oien say we should simply trust the internal procedures at FBI and DOJ to get forensics right. Even at face value, that’s a difficult argument to accept. FBI agents and federal prosecutors aren’t evaluated for their allegiance to scientific principles. They’re evaluated on their ability to close cases and win convictions. Therefore, there’s a strong incentive for them to sacrifice sound science for expedience. That incentive will affect even the most conscientious and fair-minded at DOJ. But the case Isenberg and Oien are making is even harder to accept given the history of these disciplines and the ongoing onslaught of forensics and crime lab scandals. “Just trust us” hasn’t worked in the past. Why should we think it would work now?"
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2018/06/06/two-fbi-officials-say-the-state-of-forensics-is-fine-heres-why-theyre-wrong/?utm_term=.8906bb813f6e

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Brendan Dassey: Wisconsin. False confession case. 'Law and Crime' (a Dan Abrams production) provides an excellent backgrounder for today's application by Dassey for leave to appeal to America's highest court..."Dassey’s appellate team has sought to increase Dassey’s chances of success by highlighting the larger policy issues which resulted in his conviction. Specifically, Dassey’s team has argued that it has been decades since the Supreme Court has examined the issue of juvenile confessions and that the gap between the last relevant decision and the present day has resulted in incongruent and incorrect rulings throughout the lower courts. Typically, the results of a conference on a case are released the following Monday at 9:30 a.m. We should know Monday, June 25th, whether the Court is accepting or rejecting Dassey’s petition."


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "Dassey has appealed his case through state and federal courts to claim that his confession to the 2005 rape and murder of Halbach was involuntarily coerced by older, smarter detectives who fed him details about the crime and then promised him leniency if he agreed with their versions of the events. Dassey tried to have his confession thrown out of court before his trial, but the trial judge ruled that the confession was voluntary and allowed jurors to hear it. After conviction, Dassey appealed to an intermediate state appellate court. That court agreed with the trial judge that the confession was voluntary and that jurors properly heard it. After that loss, Dassey appealed to federal court. Dassey won in both the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and in 7th Circuit Court of appeals. However, a full panel of judges on the 7th Circuit agreed to hear the case. That full panel determined in a close 4-3 ruling that the state courts did not unreasonably determine that Dassey’s confession was the product of his own free will."

STORY: ‘Making a Murderer’: Supreme Court Meets Today on Brendan Dassey Case," by  reporter Aaron Keller,  published by 'Law and Crime' on June 21, 2018.  'Law and Crime' describes itself as  the only site for live court video, high-profile criminal trials, crazy crime, celebrity justice, and smart legal analysis. "Created by TV’s top legal commentator and attorney, Dan Abrams, Law & Crime brings common sense written and video analysis to the often confusing and always intriguing world of the law. The site’s team of journalists and lawyers provide real-time news updates along with live courtroom coverage of the most fascinating trials and legal stories."

GIST: "Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States are meeting Thursday to determine the fate of the case of Brendan Dassey. Dassey and his uncle Steven Avery were convicted of killing freelance photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. Their cases became famous in the hit Netflix film “Making a Murderer.” Dassey’s petition for a so-called writ of certiorari is a request that the U.S. Supreme Court accept his case. Statistically, the Court only accepts approximately one to two percent of the petitions for certiorari that it receives. Though the justices of the Court prefer to read the briefs submitted for themselves, oftentimes the justices ask their law clerks — who are usually recent law school graduates — to comb through the volumes of petitions and to provide an initial triage of which cases should and should not be accepted. From there, the justices conference to formally vote on the petitions. For Dassey, that process occurs Thursday, June 21st, after having been delayed once. At least four of the Court’s nine justices must vote to accept a petition before the Court will accept and hear a case. Typically, the Court accepts cases with big-picture policy ramifications. The Court generally does not accept cases to correct perceived errors for an individual litigant. Dassey’s appellate team has sought to increase Dassey’s chances of success by highlighting the larger policy issues which resulted in his conviction. Specifically, Dassey’s team has argued that it has been decades since the Supreme Court has examined the issue of juvenile confessions and that the gap between the last relevant decision and the present day has resulted in incongruent and incorrect rulings throughout the lower courts. Typically, the results of a conference on a case are released the following Monday at 9:30 a.m. We should know Monday, June 25th, whether the Court is accepting or rejecting Dassey’s petition. Sometimes, Supreme Court justices publish dissents when not enough fellow justices agree to accept a case. Dassey has appealed his case through state and federal courts to claim that his confession to the 2005 rape and murder of Halbach was involuntarily coerced by older, smarter detectives who fed him details about the crime and then promised him leniency if he agreed with their versions of the events. Dassey tried to have his confession thrown out of court before his trial, but the trial judge ruled that the confession was voluntary and allowed jurors to hear it. After conviction, Dassey appealed to an intermediate state appellate court. That court agreed with the trial judge that the confession was voluntary and that jurors properly heard it. After that loss, Dassey appealed to federal court. Dassey won in both the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and in 7th Circuit Court of appeals. However, a full panel of judges on the 7th Circuit agreed to hear the case. That full panel determined in a close 4-3 ruling that the state courts did not unreasonably determine that Dassey’s confession was the product of his own free will. The Law&Crime Network and Law&Crime.com will provide full coverage and reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision immediately upon its publication."


The entire story can be read at:
https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/making-a-murderer-supreme-court-meets-today-on-brendan-dassey-case/

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

Joe Bryan: Texas: New York Times takes at the scientific unreliability of blood-splatter evidence - as revealed during Pamela Colloff's outstanding investigation of the role played by scientifically unreliable blood-splatter analysis in the Joe Bryan (Texas) case - and calls for Bryan's release and a re-examination of his conviction, "in light of the shortcomings of the evidence used to convict him."





PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In Mickey Bryan’s case, Detective Thorman testified that the apparent blood specks on the flashlight were “back spatter,” and showed that her killer had shot her at close range. Through the 1960s, analyzing bloodstain patterns was the province of forensic scientists with years of training in fluid dynamics and high-level mathematics. The practice came to national attention in 1966, when it helped to exonerate Sam Sheppard, a neurosurgeon who had been convicted of murdering his wife more than a decade earlier. But in the 1970s and 1980s, this kind of analysis became popular among members of law enforcement and others with little or no scientific training. People like Detective Thorman got certified as bloodstain-pattern analysts after taking a weeklong course that now costs as little as a few hundred dollars. Pamela Colloff, who wrote the articles on the Times Magazine/ProPublica investigation of Joe Bryan’s case, enrolled in one of these courses, where the instructor told her, “We’re not really going to focus on the math and physics; it just kind of bogs things down.” Ms. Colloff passed the final exam, as did everyone in the class.Thanks in part to such dubious standards, the interpretation of bloodstain evidence has become notoriously ambiguous."

EDITORIAL: "Bad Blood," published by the New York Times on May 31, 2018, in reference to Pamela Colloff's outstanding investigation of the role played by unreliable blood-splatter analysis in the Joe Brian (Texas) case.

GIST: "Joe Bryan, a former small-town high school principal from central Texas, is serving 99 years in prison for the brutal murder of his wife, Mickey, in 1985 — a crime he probably didn’t commit. Mr. Bryan has been locked up for about 30 years. He has no clear prospects for release other than periodic opportunities at parole, which he has been denied despite being a model prisoner and having a spotless disciplinary record. Many of the prison guards who know him best are convinced that he’s innocent. So why is Mr. Bryan still behind bars? Because of some tiny specks of what may or may not have been blood on a flashlight that may or may not have been planted in the trunk of his car — a piece of evidence prosecutors introduced at trial through the testimony of an expert witness who may or may not have known what he was talking about. As a two-part series published by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica lays out in damning detail, there was essentially no other physical evidence or motive tying Mr. Bryan to the crime. By all accounts, the Bryans had a happy marriage. On the night of his wife’s murder, Mr. Bryan was attending a principals’ conference 120 miles away. Prosecutors dismissed or ignored many pieces of potentially exculpatory evidence, like an unidentified palm print in the bedroom where Mrs. Bryan was shot to death, a cigarette butt on the kitchen floor (neither of the Bryans smoked) and the absence of any bloodstains in Mr. Bryan’s car.
Despite all this, Joe Bryan was convicted on the word of a detective named Robert Thorman, who testified before the jury as an expert in what is known as bloodstain-pattern analysis. Drips, spatters, smears and sprays — the distribution of blood at a crime scene — can provide possibly useful information about what weapon was used, where a victim was positioned and whether he or she was moved before or after being killed. In Mickey Bryan’s case, Detective Thorman testified that the apparent blood specks on the flashlight were “back spatter,” and showed that her killer had shot her at close range. Through the 1960s, analyzing bloodstain patterns was the province of forensic scientists with years of training in fluid dynamics and high-level mathematics. The practice came to national attention in 1966, when it helped to exonerate Sam Sheppard, a neurosurgeon who had been convicted of murdering his wife more than a decade earlier. But in the 1970s and 1980s, this kind of analysis became popular among members of law enforcement and others with little or no scientific training. People like Detective Thorman got certified as bloodstain-pattern analysts after taking a weeklong course that now costs as little as a few hundred dollars. Pamela Colloff, who wrote the articles on the Times Magazine/ProPublica investigation of Joe Bryan’s case, enrolled in one of these courses, where the instructor told her, “We’re not really going to focus on the math and physics; it just kind of bogs things down.” Ms. Colloff passed the final exam, as did everyone in the class. Thanks in part to such dubious standards, the interpretation of bloodstain evidence has become notoriously ambiguous. The same patterns can, like a Rorschach test, be read in very different ways; some trials feature two bloodstain “experts,” one on each side, who testify to opposite conclusions. A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that “the opinions of bloodstain-pattern analysts are more subjective than scientific,” and, “The uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous.” And yet judges in many states have accepted these experts’ testimony as scientifically valid — not because of any concrete evidence that it is, but because other courts have accepted it before. In other words, it’s a good bet that there are other Joe Bryans sitting in prisons around the country because of highly unreliable forensic testimony. That unreliability is not unique to bloodstain-pattern analysis. As DNA testing has revolutionized forensic science and helped to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted people, it has also shined a light on the inadequacy of earlier methods. The National Academy of Sciences report found significant problems with the analysis of bite marks, tire treads, arson and hair samples. In 2015, the F.B.I. released an initial review of hundreds of convictions it had won and found that over two decades, the bureau’s “elite” forensic hair-sample analysts testified wrongly in favor of the prosecution 96 percent of the time. Thirty-two of the defendants in those cases were sentenced to death, and 14 of those were executed or died in prison. The scientific analysis of forensic evidence can be essential to solving crimes, but as long as the process is controlled by the police and prosecutors, and not scientists, there will never be adequate oversight. Changing this was the goal of a national commission established in the wake of the 2009 report. Unfortunately, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long sided with prosecutors and rejected efforts to look more critically at forensic sciences, let the commission expire last year.
For now, any hope for greater scrutiny of bloodstain-pattern analysis lies with the influential Texas Forensic Science Commission, which agreed to examine Mr. Bryan’s case, along with another involving the use of bloodstain-pattern evidence. The commission, whose recommendations are watched nationally, in February imposed on Texas a requirement that bloodstain-pattern analysis be performed by an accredited organization, which should make it harder for prosecutors to introduce testimony by analysts with minimal training and qualifications. Meanwhile, time is running out for Mr. Bryan. He’s 77 and suffers from congestive heart failure. He is currently being considered for parole again, with a decision expected within weeks. He should be released, and his conviction should be re-examined in light of the shortcomings of the evidence used to convict him. Because so much time has passed since Mickey Bryan’s murder, and many people connected to the investigation have since died, the identity of her killer may never be definitively known. That uncertainty should be the state’s burden to carry, not Joe Bryan’s."

The entire editorial can be read at:



https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/31/opinion/blood-splatter-evidence.html

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

Sandra Higgins: Ireland; (Shaken baby syndrome case); The child-minder's third trial has collapsed - after the judge explained to the jurors (after a hearing in their absence) that email communications between expert witnesses in the case were not passed on to the defence, The Irish Times reports. "The judge said as a result she was satisfied there was a reasonable doubt the accused could not get a fair trial. She said generally there is no difficulty with expert witnesses contacting each other, so long as the defence knows about it. The judge said fair trial procedure means the defence is entitled to have all information beforehand. She told the jury that in this case, the defence team was “potentially hamstrung” and impeded in properly preparing their cross-examination."






GIST: "The third retrial of a Cavan child-minder accused of causing serious harm to a baby has collapsed at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court. Sandra Higgins (37) of The Beeches, Drumgola Wood, Cavan, had pleaded not guilty to intentionally or recklessly causing serious harm to a baby girl at the accused’s home on March 28th, 2012. It is the State’s case that the baby’s injuries, which included bruising and swelling on her head and face, bleeding on the brain and detached retinas in both eyes, were inflicted by Ms Higgins. On Thursday Judge Pauline Codd explained that an issue arose during legal argument in the absence of the jury. She explained that through “no wilful action” by gardaí­ or anybody else, email communications between expert witnesses in the case were not passed on to the defence. The judge said as a result she was satisfied there was a reasonable doubt the accused could not get a fair trial. She said generally there is no difficulty with expert witnesses contacting each other, so long as the defence knows about it. The judge said fair trial procedure means the defence is entitled to have all information beforehand. She told the jury that in this case, the defence team was “potentially hamstrung” and impeded in properly preparing their cross-examination. She said it is up to the Director of Public Prosecutions to see whether to bring the case to trial again, but if so it will be before another jury. Judge Codd thanked jury members before discharging them from their civic duty. She remanded Ms Higgins on continuing bail for a mention date in another court in July."

The entire story can be read at:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rodney Reed: Texas: His request for new DNA testing of the murder weapon and other crime scene evidence from the 1996 strangulation of Stacey Stites is en route to the U.S. Supreme Court..."Earlier this year, Reed asked the nation’s high court to review a state criminal appeals court decision that denied additional DNA testing after the court found the crime scene items had been contaminated over the years due to their repeated handling by lawyers, prosecutors, court employees and jurors. That level of contamination makes skin-cell DNA identification unreliable, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2017. Reed, through his attorney Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, is asking the Supreme Court to review Chapter 64 of Texas’ Code of Criminal Procedure, a 2005 state law that allows an inmate to request new DNA testing that wasn’t previously available during trial. Reed’s attorneys say that if the Supreme Court allows Texas to strike down Reed’s request for new DNA testing under Chapter 64, there could be ramifications in other states with similar laws."


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I adopt the words of the formidable Ohio criminal defence lawyer lawyer/blogger Jeff Gamso..."JUST TEST THE FUCKING DNA.
 http://gamso-forthedefense.blogspot.com/2018/05/what-is-truth-said-jesting-pilate.html


Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

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PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "In a summary of the evidence in the case, prosecutors said that Travis County’s then-Chief Medical Examiner Richard Bayardo estimated Stites’ time of death in April 1996 was at 3 a.m., give or take four hours. However, that statement varies from transcripts of Reed’s 1998 trial. Under questioning by the state’s prosecutor, Lisa Tanner, Bayardo said that he estimated the time of Stites’ death around 3 a.m. April 23, “give or take one or two hours.” Reed’s defense attorneys have argued over the years that Stites died hours before the state claimed, which would help prove Reeds’ innocence. They also have argued that Reed and Stites were having an affair and that her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, killed her after learning of their consensual sexual relationship. Fennell was an early suspect in Stites’ death, before DNA tests linked semen found in her body to Reed. Reed’s semen was presented as evidence during trial that he had raped and killed Stites. Fennell was recently released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman in his custody when he was a Georgetown police officer in 2007."

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Texas leads the nation in executions, and its hostility to post-conviction DNA testing notwithstanding, Texas also leads the nation in DNA exonerations,” the filing (by Reed's attornies)  stated. “Exonerations may erode confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system, especially in older cases where local law enforcement often failed to adhere to current professional standards, but the continued incarceration (or execution) of innocent people is far more corrosive.”

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STORY: "Arguments filed with U.S. Supreme Court over Rodney Reed case," by reporter Brandon Mulder, published by The American-Statesman on May 29, 2018.

GIST: "Defense attorneys and state prosecutors involved in Rodney Reed’s capital murder case have submitted arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court over Reed’s request for new DNA testing of the murder weapon and other crime scene evidence from the 1996 strangulation of Stacey Stites. Reed was sentenced to death in 1998 for Stites’ murder. Earlier this year, Reed asked the nation’s high court to review a state criminal appeals court decision that denied additional DNA testing after the court found the crime scene items had been contaminated over the years due to their repeated handling by lawyers, prosecutors, court employees and jurors. That level of contamination makes skin-cell DNA identification unreliable, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2017. Reed, through his attorney Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, is asking the Supreme Court to review Chapter 64 of Texas’ Code of Criminal Procedure, a 2005 state law that allows an inmate to request new DNA testing that wasn’t previously available during trial. Reed’s attorneys say that if the Supreme Court allows Texas to strike down Reed’s request for new DNA testing under Chapter 64, there could be ramifications in other states with similar laws. “Because many states have enacted post-conviction DNA testing statutes similar to Chapter 64, the ramifications of the CCA’s ruling are of national constitutional significance,” Reed’s defense attorneys wrote in a May 18 filing. “Texas leads the nation in executions, and its hostility to post-conviction DNA testing notwithstanding, Texas also leads the nation in DNA exonerations,” the filing stated. “Exonerations may erode confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system, especially in older cases where local law enforcement often failed to adhere to current professional standards, but the continued incarceration (or execution) of innocent people is far more corrosive.” Reed’s attorneys say that a denial of new DNA testing by the state court is a violation of Reed’s civil rights protected under the 14th Amendment. In a May 7 filing, state prosecutors contend that because Reed is challenging the interpretation of state law procedures — Chapter 64 — the matter is not a constitutional issue and the Supreme Court should have no jurisdiction over this case. And because Chapter 64 has a “chain of custody” requirement, which ensures that physical evidence used in DNA testing is free from contamination, Texas courts should have sole jurisdiction. “Chain of custody, in this context, is rightly focused on the integrity of the biological material itself, not the item on which it is found. There is nothing irrational or unconstitutional in ensuring the integrity of biological material through chain-of-custody requirements,” the filing read. Citing precedent, prosecutors argued the Supreme Court should hold “no supervisory power over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of a constitutional dimension.” The state’s latest filing also details a summary of the crime scene, Reed’s trial and his post-conviction proceedings, which have spanned more than 15 years. In a summary of the evidence in the case, prosecutors said that Travis County’s then-Chief Medical Examiner Richard Bayardo estimated Stites’ time of death in April 1996 was at 3 a.m., give or take four hours. However, that statement varies from transcripts of Reed’s 1998 trial. Under questioning by the state’s prosecutor, Lisa Tanner, Bayardo said that he estimated the time of Stites’ death around 3 a.m. April 23, “give or take one or two hours.” Reed’s defense attorneys have argued over the years that Stites died hours before the state claimed, which would help prove Reeds’ innocence. They also have argued that Reed and Stites were having an affair and that her fiance, Jimmy Fennell, killed her after learning of their consensual sexual relationship. Fennell was an early suspect in Stites’ death, before DNA tests linked semen found in her body to Reed. Reed’s semen was presented as evidence during trial that he had raped and killed Stites. Fennell was recently released from prison after serving a 10-year sentence for the kidnapping and sexual assault of a woman in his custody when he was a Georgetown police officer in 2007."


The entire story can be read at:
https://www.statesman.com/news/local/arguments-filed-with-supreme-court-over-rodney-reed-case/j6uk2PFCumuN3ssD7XfzVN/

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.

 The entire story can be found at: 



Brendan Dassey: Wisconsin; False confession case: Bulletin: Bid to have case considered by U.S. Supreme Court to be head tomorrow: (Thursday June 21, 2018);






https://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/local/steven-avery/2018/06/18/brendan-dassey-appeal-supreme-court-making-murderer/710999002/

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com. Harold Levy; Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.